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Do Employers Really Check Your Social Media? Advice from a Former Principal at a Major Executive Search Firm

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McGill chapter.

In a world of social media, so many aspects of our lives are made public for our friends, family, and even our employers to see. It can be hard to find a balance between showing your followers your life and what you are doing without going too far and sharing things that could potentially hurt your career. I met up with Cindy Harris, a former principal with a major executive search firm in Chicago for her advice on how to represent yourself in a way that favors your career moves and gives you an advantage over others from a hiring perspective.  

group of people working side by side at table with laptops
Photo by wocintechchat.com from Unsplash

Harris says that not all employers, but a large percentage, sometimes 45% or higher, before they recruit, are going to check your social media and that most employers will hire security firms to check social media.  

“There are several large companies that do this for a fee,” Harris said. “They might give a company ten thousand dollars to check out an executive…they’re paying that fee to a company so that they will have everything about you, photos, everything, which might be in a file.” 

So, what exactly are employers going to check? Harris says they would most likely start their search with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and that employers are looking at your pictures and posts in terms of if they would reflect their company badly or embarrass them.  

person holding iphone outside
Photo by Paul Hanaoka from Unsplash

These behaviors could include looking drunk in party settings. With this being said, Harris does say that not all photos with alcohol are bad: 

“Not with a glass of wine with the Eiffel tower in the background if you’re at a café, as long as you’re of age. Not that kind of thing.” 

In general, the best thing to think of before you post a picture is if you would be okay with your parents, teachers, or employers looking at the picture in a critical manner. This also includes making sure you have dressed appropriately in photos, which doesn’t mean you can’t post pictures on vacation in a bathing suit but making sure you aren’t showing off your body in an overly sexual or disrespectful manner. You want to maintain a professional view of yourself online. 

woman using laptop

Along with making sure your photos are appropriate, Harris also recommends not posting offensive or humorous political tweets, memes or photos on your social media, depending on what type of career you are going into.  

A great example Harris mentioned was posting pictures and tweets of Trump where you are making fun of him or photoshopping his face onto inappropriate pictures. You never know if the person hiring you is a Republican, a Democrat, or a Trump supporter.

“You don’t know who’s hiring you,” advised Harris, “when you start criticizing another group of people then you should consider taking that down.”  

MacBook Air beside gold-colored study lamp and spiral books
Arnel Hasanovic / Unsplash

In terms of whether you should keep your account private, Harris says it’s better to be public and clean up your social media.  

“A company may assume if it’s private, there’s something you want to hide, so it’s better just to be out there and how you are, that’s my advice,” said Harris.  

Although there are many things advised against posting on social media, you can also use your social media to show off your good qualities and accomplishments. Harris says showing off who you are with, pictures of you with your friends, traveling, or pursuing your passions are all great for employers to see. 

Spencer Davis
Spencer Davis / Unsplash

“It doesn’t have to be 100% selling yourself, Facebook is not a resume,” said Harris. “You just don’t want to come across as a negative person. You do want to come across as a person with a lot of friends and with a stable family, a person who knows how to have fun, but also knows how to work. I think the pictures should reflect the balance that you do have in your life.”  

Harris gave two instances of people whose social media affected their hiring process greatly. The first instance, a firm made an executive-level offer contingent on the person’s references, criminal, credit, and social media, as Harris elaborated: 

“Everything was good, except for one photo on social media and it showed a really bad lack of judgment. That person was being considered for a very serious, high-level job at a company that really needed to be concerned about its reputation in the public eye.”  

Harris says that because the company could access this photo, they knew that other people could also see it, which would reflect badly on their company. They decided not to hire, took away their offer, and went for their backup candidate all based on this one photo. 

woman sitting on sofa looking at phone
Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Another instance was of someone already working in a junior position who made a shaming, mean-spirited comment on someone’s Facebook post. The person who was shamed looked up where that person worked, seeing they were associated with an organization through their Facebook account, and reported that person to their organization. Because it reflected poorly on that corporation’s reputation, that person was let go.  

These examples aren’t just for high-up positions. It can happen to anyone, whether the position is under the CEO of a corporation or a junior-level position. Your media reputation can affect it all. Harris’s advice from her experience and stories are a great lesson to anyone starting the job or internship search and looking to create a professional online profile for themselves. 

“[Corporations] are not going to take any risks these days,” Harris said. 

Laptop with white mug that says the future is female with a lipstick mark
Pexels / CoWomen

Simone is a Second-year student at McGill Majoring in Psychology and minoring in Marketing and Behavioral Science. She is from Chicago and is passionate about mental health promotion and is VP External for the Students in Mind Mental Health Conference. She is also a Research Assistant at the Social Interaction and Perception Lab at McGill, which studies the causes and consequences of accurate social perception and expression. She enjoys dancing and exploring Montreal via metro or on foot with her friends.